I have spent the last week on Iona, an island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The sun shone, the wind blew, the sea glistened, the sand sparkled and the singing of birds was everywhere - curlews, corncrakes, linnets, thrushes, twites, goldcrests and even a cuckoo.
The island was celebrating the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba on Iona. Columba had fled the land of his birth, Ireland, after a supposed dispute over the copying of the psalter. He set up a thriving monastic community which was a great centre of pilgrimage and missionary activity until the Vikings sacked it and the monks went back to Ireland taking with them the Book of Kells. For many years the Abbey was a ruin until the beginning of the 20th century when restoration was begun. But it was the establishment of the Iona Community by George MacLeod and the restoration of the Abbey as a centre of worship, work and reflection that has brought Iona back to life as a centre of pilgrimage. George MacLeod famously said that Iona was a thin place, where the curtain between this world and the next was thin. There is no doubt a spiritual atmosphere there and simply to be on the island and drink in its beauty is healing in itself. Once again people flock to it, enjoy its beauty, take part in its worship and courses and go forth to spread the good news. This is a new kind of missionary activity in which the influence of the community has spread world wide. In a sense Iona has returned to what it was.
As I participated in the celebrations I was struck by the presence of Columba, how his influence is still felt even though for centuries it was lying dormant. This is surely the same for all of us. All the world religions recognise that how human beings live makes an impact on our world, has consequences for future generations. Columba shows us that this impact can be long term as well as short term and can even go into hiding for a time.
I am a Catholic nun, involved in interfaith relations for many decades. For me this has been an exciting and sacred journey which I would like to share with others.